Dear friends in Christ:
Marriage and weddings for us as Catholics, are different from those around us, both religious and secular. While there are some similarities between the Catholic teaching and understanding of marriage and how others see and understand marriage, there are also significant differences. This is because Catholics understand marriage to be a Sacrament of the Church. The significant distinctions and differences in how marriage is celebrated and lived by Catholics are not merely cosmetic, superficial, accidental or unimportant. The distinctions and differences go to the very core of marriage, they are essential to the sacrament of marriage. One of the first things that is necessary to understand the Catholic teaching on marriage is that it is not merely a personal or private action. Catholic marriage is also a public and communal reality. While there are vestiges of this understanding in other religions and even in society, they are increasingly downplayed or exist in a diminished mode. This is most clearly seen for Catholics in that Catholics are obligated (under pain of sin) to celebrate their marriages and to live their marriages according to certain objective norms. In other words, weddings and marriages are not at the whim or exclusive personal choice or preferences of the couple.
So what are some of the objective teachings of the Catholic Faith concerning marriage? Here are a few: Catholics believe that marriage is a permanent, lifelong, exclusive and indissoluble union between one man and one woman and God. For any Catholic to enter into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony both parties must be free to enter marriage, not bound by any previous bonds (marriages). They both must be free from all emotional, physical, psychological force or fear. Both parties must be capable of understanding and making a permanent and lifelong commitment. Both parties must be open to life and the procreation of children. There cannot be any conditions or reservations concerning the marriage vows (this includes pre-nuptial agreements). All Catholics are bound to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Matrimony according to the rites of the Catholic Church (in a Catholic Church and witnessed by a Catholic priest or deacon). Catholics are to marry other Catholics. For a Catholic to marry a baptized Christian of another Christian body or an unbaptized person, a dispensation from the bishop is required. Catholics who enter into “a mixed marriage” (with a non-Catholic) must reaffirm their faith in Jesus Christ, promise to continue living their faith in the Catholic Church and promise to raise all their children Catholic and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church. While it is not obligatory for non-Catholics to convert to Catholicism in order to marry a Catholic, it is a good and wonderful thing when a non-Catholic embraces the Catholic Faith of their spouse or intended spouse, if it is done for the right reason (a sincere conversion of mind, heart and life and a desire to live and embrace the Catholic Faith).
The Sacrament of Marriage obliges the couple to live their lives “together as one” in loving God and following his Son, Jesus Christ. Marriage is more than the couple just loving one another. It is the couple loving each other, their children and God! The Sacrament of Marriage is a vocation of living the Christian life. It is a way of following Jesus and getting to heaven. For Catholics, we understand the marriage of a Christian man and Christian woman to be a living embodiment of the marriage of Christ and his bride, the Church.
Thus, the model of Christian marriage for Catholics is not our parents’ or grandparents’ marriage, even if they had a wonderful and exemplary relationship, but Jesus’ marriage! So what are the essential characteristics of Jesus’ marriage to his bride, the Church? They are Freedom, Knowledge, Fidelity and Fruitfulness.
To be continued.
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately